Everybody wants a career that is meaningful. When you choose a career in healthcare, however, you find yourself able to use your knowledge and help people outside of work. Today our guest blogger shares how she uses her occupational therapy skills for the job of living to help family, friends, and even strangers.
Unexpected Times My OT Training Has Helped in Real Life
As a healthcare provider, you will often become the go-to healthcare resource for your family and friends for all their questions. It can be a little overwhelming and frustrating at times, as this includes questions about nutrition, medications, exercise routines, and what causes all their aches and pains (which are not necessarily the areas an occupational therapist specializes in). While you may have some insight to give, you will often say “I have no idea. That is NOT what I do for a living.” However, when you graduate, you will find that you know more than you think you do. You may not have the answer, but you can point them in the correct direction by giving generic healthcare advice, such as suggesting the type of doctor that they should seek.
For example, I have a family member who has been having bilateral upper extremity pain and stiffness. He was asking me what was causing his pain. Of course I could make an educated guess, but without diagnostic tools such as X-ray’s, MRI’s, etc., that doctors have access to, I have no idea. I suggested he make an appointment with his primary care physician or even a rheumatologist (since he has had trouble with this in the past). This seemed like common sense to someone with a medical background; however, to him this was a novel idea.
As OTs we have a well-rounded knowledge base about mental health, anatomy, childhood development and pediatrics, the way hospitals and clinics function, geriatrics, and, above all, we have a knack for problem solving. While I am most confident in the field of orthopedics and upper extremity rehab, I have provided guidance to family and friends in all aspects of health care and therapy with my training as an occupational therapist.
Situation 1: A Stranger at a Wedding
For example, I was in a wedding last summer as a bridesmaid and we were lined up outside the reception hall waiting to be announced to make our entrance. As the best man was hurrying to get it line, he slipped and fell on his outstretched hand. It was raining that day, and if you have ever seen the bottom of rented tuxedo shoes, there is absolutely no tread. I was standing next to him at the time and saw it all happen. He fell with his elbow extended (completely straight) and forearm pronated (palm down). When he stood up you could tell he was in a lot of pain and tried to “walk it off.” Everyone kept saying “you’re fine, you’re fine, you probably just ‘hyper-extended’ your wrist.”
However, he kept holding his elbow and saying his elbow hurt. He started getting a little pale in color and someone got him a chair to sit on. I went over and asked for him to point to the area that hurt and he pointed to his elbow. I asked him to bend and straighten his elbow. He did not have full range of motion and was in a lot of pain when he moved his arm. I asked if he could rotate his forearm palm up and palm down, and again he did not have full range of motion and was in a lot of pain. Based on these symptoms and the fact that I had seen the mechanism of injury, I knew immediately he had broken his radial head (the proximal portion of the radius, a bone in your forearm). I was trying to talk him into going to the ER while the rest of the wedding party was trying to persuade him to stay. It was a bit awkward and I felt like the “bad guy,” but reluctantly he went and returned for the end of the reception in a cast and told me I was right, he had fractured his radial head.
Situation 2: A Neighbor’s Son
Recently I had a neighbor call and talk to me about his child, who needs occupational therapy for handwriting. While I do not treat or work with children for handwriting concerns, he knew I was an OT and an easy resource to contact. I was able to put him in touch with a friend of mine from school who treats children for handwriting issues as an OT. Even when you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with a certain aspect of OT, your basic knowledge from school (skills for the job of living), and your resources (i.e. friends and now colleagues you graduated with) can help.
Situation 3: Family Members in Need
When family members are in the hospital, I help make sure they are getting up out of bed and moving over the weekend. Therapy staffing in hospitals over weekends is very thin and often, for one reason or another, certain patients are not considered “priorities.” It stinks, but that’s how it is done. You do not heal or get better if you lie around in bed. People heal and improve if you are up walking around, moving, and getting your blood pumping.
I also helped family members understand the therapy their son will be receiving. Their son was evaluated by an OT and they determined he had vestibular system troubles. I explained the type of sensory education or reeducation therapy he would receive and helped put their mind at ease. They thanked me and said I explained it better and more thorough than any other health care professional they had spoken with (the OT that evaluated him or the doctor that prescribed the evaluation). They were probably busy at work, and I had the ability and time to help them understand what to expect. That meant the world to them and made them less stressed out.
You will use your occupational therapy skills for the job of living in unexpected ways. It may be just giving advice or educating friends or family on what to expect, or it may be to assist someone with triage for an injury. Whatever the reason, you will be a well-educated healthcare resource for your friends, family, or a complete stranger.